Men Should Embolden Women to Lift Weights
by Daniel Lehewych
As a man writing this article, I cannot help but brace myself for ridicule. Yet, that is the burden one must be willing to take when one is speaking in the name of truth. When the philosopher John-Stuart Mill published his essay entitled The Subjection of Women –an essay which will inform much of what you will read in this article-- in 1869, he undoubtedly braced himself for similar –albeit, far more intense—ridicule. Essentially, Mill’s essay was the first major written work written by a man who promoted the rights and emancipation of women. In Mill’s Autobiography he recounts what influenced his work,
All that is most striking and profound in what was written by me belongs to my wife, coming from the fund of thought that had been made common to us both by our innumerable conversations and discussions on a topic that filled so large a place in our minds.
My thoughts on the matter of women lifting weights come from a similar place. Namely, in the conversations I have had on the topic with my girlfriend, Jean. For me, without my dialogue with Jean, I do not believe I would have been capable of linguistically articulating my thoughts on this matter.
And I say “linguistically articulate” because I believe that my views on women lifting weights predate my conversations with Jean. The only difference now is that I can put words to my opinions.
I say this on account of how I met Jean: we met in the gym, of course. But our gym is a quite peculiar place: Star Fitness USA in the Bronx, New York, is a place for gym-bros to go to feel like they are hardcore. In reality, however, it is simply a glorified Planet Fitness with better equipment and with IFBB bodybuilders who none of the rules apply to. Powerlifting in this gym is discouraged.
In any case, the only powerlifter that I saw in this gym aside from myself was Jean. When I first started seeing her at the gym, the only way I could describe how I felt about her was reverence from afar. I found it so cool that a woman was stronger than the vast majority of the men in my gym. Given the dynamics of men and women in gyms –and elsewhere, for that matter— (which often becomes apish dominance disputes between men over women that are both implicit and explicit) I also found it rather courageous for Jean to have been lifting very heavily all alone in a gym full of bros.
Such respect is my point of departure with regard to all women who lift and wish to lift. The starting place that any morally-minded person ought to have with respect to the life-decisions of others is their humanity –the promotion of their well-being, power to think and power to act. Lifting has had such an effect on me: how could I wish that it should be otherwise for women?
Those who do wish it to be otherwise come from a different starting point. One that is illuminated in the title of Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex. Which is to say, it isn’t only that women are “othered”: they are othered in a subordinated fashion. Through this process, they are dehumanized. And therefore, are preyed upon as the playthings of men who are still primitive enough to think and behave under such terms.
As Mill pointed out in his essay, women are raised to act as if they are weak, docile and emotional, due to traditional prejudices. Luckily, society is shifting away from this and as the years go on, less and less women are raised this way, as Mill hoped it would. It is truly sad that one must state why this is a good thing –too many men take it to be an a priori negative development. But in any case, letting women act the way they wish, rather than upon some sort of societal expectations, frees them from the unhappiness of repression and allows them to explore what would otherwise have been assumed to be impossible for them to do.
Why would we want half of our population to be unhappy? From a hypothetical egoistic-male perspective, can’t you see that this would make you (men) unhappy as well? We cannot assume that we do not co-exist, which seems to be the presumption behind such efforts to suppress women. But again, all the more evidence for dehumanization, which is the crux of the problem.
All lifting serves to do is make anyone who participates in it stronger, sexier, more conscientious, more competent and healthier. How could you want half of the population to miss out on these benefits? Especially if you lift: wouldn’t you be happy connecting with your partner on that level –literally through growing together?
Finally, on the attractiveness end of things: you do not have to be attracted to women who lift. However, it is senseless to attack women who lift on the basis of this lack of attraction. Any such attack is purely derived from insecurity, selfishness, cowardice (as, these attacks are never in person) and a profound lack of empathy.
From a moral perspective, what actually matters when it comes to how you treat yourself and others? Confucius’ golden rule is helpful: treat other people how you wish yourself to be treated. I italicized the word “people” for a distinct reason: until women are simply understood as human beings, rather than as some “other” thing, the problem under question will not be resolved.
Hence, the core message here is to treat all humans as humans, who have lives, emotions, aspirations, sufferings and accomplishments. This treatment –no matter what sex the person is—ought to be approached with the intention of mitigating the suffering of people and promoting their well-being.
In the lifting community, these principles need to be taken seriously by everyone, including men with respect to women. What might taking this seriously entail? If women in your life want to lift weights, you should encourage them to do so. If you see women lifting weights online, you should either say nothing or say something encouraging. It makes the world a little bit less of a shitty place to live in when simply gestures of kindness like these are made more commonplace.
Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, a powerlifter, and a freelance writer. His areas of interest are moral psychology, ethics, the philosophy of mind, and the health sciences.